In the beginning of evolution life was lived without love, without friendship, without sex, and without self- consciousness. Of the four, sex was the first to appear. It took more than one and a half billion years for single cell life forms on earth to reach the level of multicellular organisms and another 300-400 million years after that, for sexual reproduction to evolve.. Only with the evolution of birds and mammals more than three billion years after the beginnings of life, did parental love, mate paring, and friendship appear. It took more than three billion years from the beginning, for consciousness to develop, and self-consciousness has only blossomed in the last few seconds geologically speaking. While millions of species can live their entire lives without experiencing love, friendship, personal conscious trust and other forms of relationships, humans cannot. And we know it.
Relationships make up the core of our thoughts and activities. Family, friends, community and the love of God, nature and community, all provide us with our most important and meaningful human experiences.
Judaism is a religion based on the covenantal relationship between the People of Israel and the God of Israel. Parents can have many children that they love equally, but each relationship is unique to that child. God relates to humanity in many different religious ways, and only one of them is the Jewish way. Our relationship to God is not based on our own personal experience, although many Jews do have personal experiences of the Divine. The relationship of God and the Jewish People is based on the covenant (partnership agreement) formed at Mount Sinai, when God choose Israel to be his people, and Israel choose God to be their God. This relationship is not based on beliefs or even on faith, it is based on trust and faithfulness. Jews who are committed to the Jewish tradition and loyal the Jewish People are faithful Jews. ‘Good’ Jews are Jews who are trying to become better Jews by living lives filled with Torah and Mitsvot. This is why studying Torah and asking questions is so important for most Jews. This is why engaging in Mitsvot and doing good is more important than specific beliefs and prayers for most Jews.
Jewish religious thought is expressed clearly in a verse that is part of the introduction to the declaring of the Ten Commandments and the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. “NOW IF YOU REALY LISTEN TO MY VOICE AND OBSERVE MY COVENANT, THEN OUT OF ALL PEOPLES YOU WILL BECOME MY SPECIAL POSSESSION, FOR THE WHOLE WORLD IS MINE. YOU WILL BE TO ME A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION.”( Exodus 19:5-6) I will explicate each part of this crucial verse.
NOW IF YOU REALY LISTEN TO MY VOICE AND OBSERVE MY COVENANT
Listening to my voice means studying Torah. Observing my covenant means doing Mitsvot. In marriage feelings and actions are more important than words, yet words count. In Judaism learning and doing are more important than prayers, yet prayers count.
Beliefs are important but not as important as behavior. Most important of all is belonging to the covenantal Jewish community and participating in its ritual and moral life through both feeling and doing; a holy covenant of marriage. “THE PEOPLE ALL ANSWERED TOGETHER SAYING: WE DO! WE WILL LISTEN.” AND MOSES BROUGHT THIS ANSWER BACK TO THE LORD” (Exodus 19:8)
OUT OF ALL PEOPLES YOU: Other peoples will receive prophets and holy men but only Israel entered into a covenant with God as a whole nation “chiefs, elders, officers, wives, children, converts, from wood choppers to water carriers” (Deuteronomy 29:10-11) Is being chosen and special make you superior? No. A committed loving relationship results in more giving (Mitsvot), more receiving (Torah, Prophets and sages) greater expectations and thus more grief (because each cares very mush for the other). “For you alone have I cared among all the nations of the world, therefore I will castigate you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2) Jews are not THE chosen people; they are A chosen people, the first of several monotheistic religions. “Tell Pharaoh that these are the words of the Lord: Israel is my first born son.” (Exodus 4:22) In future centuries other nations may attach themselves to the One God of Moses and Israel, but not all nations are required to worship the s ame One God. “Each nation will walk in the name of its God, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:5) Even in the Messianic Age other nations will be free to faithfully follow their own God, and the One God will bless all nations and peoples including Israel’s old enemies Assyria and Egypt, referring to Egypt as ‘my people’ (Isaiah 19:24-5)
WILL BECOME MY SPECIAL POSSESSION: To become a special possession like a bride or a groom. A marriage is special because it is a mutual choice. We do not choose our parents, our siblings or our children, but we do choose a spouse. We choose and we are chosen. All the world’s religions can lead people to God but Judaism is special because it claims that God’s covenant with Israel includes sinners and unbelievers as well as believers and the pious. Unlike God’s covenant with Noah or with Abraham, the covenant at Sinai is with a whole people, even including those non-Jews who will someday enter the Jewish people as converts. All of us stood at Sinai. All of us choose, or can’t resist, being chosen. “The Lord has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth (at that time) to be his special possession.” (Deuteronomy12: 2) The prophet Amos adds, “You alone have I cared for among all the nations of the world.” (3:2) Therefor God holds Israel extra accountable, even though God does other things for other peoples “Did I not bring Israel out of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Aramaeans from Kir?” (9:7) The special part of the relationship is not due to excluding other future nations from any relationship with the God of Israel. What is special is God’s promise; “The Lord your God is a merciful god who will never fail you or destroy you, nor will God ever forget the covenant guaranteed by oath with your ancestors.” (Deuteronomy 4:31) Since the Jewish people is still here, surviving all attempts to destroy it, God remains faithful to the Divine promise. No other nation or people in the western world still worships any of the gods that were worshiped in the days of Moses.
KINGDOM OF PRIESTS: This is why Jews have more religious duties than Christians, Muslims, Mormons or Baha’i. This is also why we struggle with God more. Doctors make the most difficult patients! They ask hard questions and as insiders they worry more and make greater demands. So too, with the Jewish people. We are stiff-necked; stubborn, proud and independent. But having made our choice to be chosen we become partners for life, and nothing can destroy our Divine relationship. Indeed, the more we are oppressed from outside because we are Jewish, the stronger we become inside our Jewishness and the greater becomes our commitment. Our Rabbis pointed out that (Psalm 135:4) which says, “For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own, Israel as his special treasure.” Could also be read as “For Jacob has chosen the Lord to be his own, Israel as His special treasure.” The Hebrew can be read both ways and thus represents the interactive mutuality of a covenantal living relationship. Without a husband there is no wife but without a wife there is no husband.
A HOLY NATION: The marriage covenant is a holy relationship. “You shall be holy because I, the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:1) God makes us holy by giving us Mitsvot. Thus the blessing Jews say when they are about to do a Mitsvah includes the phrase “asher kidshanu b’mitsvotav- who has made us holy through Mitsvot”. Mitsvot we do with love, especially the ritual ones, make us holy to God and Mitsvot we do with responsibility, especially the ethical ones, make God holy to us, “The holy God is made holy by righteousness.” (Isaiah 5:16 )
Rabbi Maller’s web site is rabbimaller.com
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